8:12am: The firing is official, the team announced, adding that it plans to name an interim coach by Tuesday (Twitter link).
7:46am: Phoenix will interview Gaines, Watson and Bjorkgren for the interim position, reports Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic (Twitter link).
7:29am: The Suns have fired coach Jeff Hornacek, league sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports. The team has yet to publicly acknowledge the move, but GM Ryan McDonough has already let Hornacek know his fate, Wojnarowski writes. Phoenix has lost 19 of its last 21 games and 14 in a row on the road, though injuries have played a role, with the team’s top three scorers absent for Sunday’s loss at Dallas, as Wojnarowski points out. His interim replacement is expected to be either one of two Suns assistants: Corey Gaines or Earl Watson, Wojnarowski also reports.
The move is no shock, as Hornacek’s job was reportedly under immediate threat in late December, when the team instead fired assistants Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting and shifted fellow assistants Watson and Nate Bjorkgren to more prominent roles. The future of the 52-year-old Hornacek was up in the air even as the season began, with a contractual decision on his team option for 2016/17 looming. Little has gone right since, as the Suns have compiled a 14-35 record in spite of realistic preseason hopes that they would make the playoffs for the first time since losing the Western Conference Finals in 2010. Phoenix stands nine games out of the final postseason spot in the West.
An offseason trade demand from Markieff Morris has seemingly hung over the team all season, even though he backtracked at the start of training camp. Trade rumors continue, and it’s reportedly a matter of when, not if, the Suns will trade the power forward who elicited a two-game suspension in December after he threw a towel in Hornacek’s direction during a December game.
Hornacek’s tenure began with much promise in 2013/14, his first season as an NBA head coach, when he finished second in Coach of the Year voting and the Suns went 48-34, narrowly missing the playoffs in a brutally competitive conference. The addition of Isaiah Thomas the following offseason backfired, and the Suns regressed to a 39-43 record last season, trading Thomas and Goran Dragic at the deadline. The Suns narrowly missed out on free agent prize LaMarcus Aldridge this past summer, instead setting off a negative chain reaction when they traded Marcus Morris and upset Markieff, his twin.
The Suns were 101-112 overall under Hornacek. Neither Gaines, Watson nor Bjorkgren has held an NBA head coaching job before. Gaines, 50, played parts of five seasons in the NBA and served as head coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. He’s been with the Suns as a player development coach since 2010/11. Watson, 36, ended a 13-year playing career after the 2013/14 season, spending last season an assistant coach with the Spurs D-League affiliate before joining the Suns staff this past summer. Bjorkgren didn’t play in the NBA but has been the head coach for three different D-League teams, including the Suns affiliate. He, like Watson, became a Suns assistant just this past summer.
Is firing Hornacek the right move for the Suns, or did he deserve more of a chance? Leave a comment to tell us.